Your product is not perfect!

And it will never be, because exactly when you think you got it right, the damn rules change.

Because people’s needs and expectations change. Can you deal with it?

As long as you accept that, you’re in for a hell of a ride trying to reach Nirvana. Or something close to that. It’s called User eXperience Design!

No matter what you do, looking back at it will make it seem like a patched, old fashioned contraption that needs more magic fuel every day to keep on keeping on.

Here’s the good news though: there’s room for improvement! This is what we’re trying to do here: make it better, grab more with less.

Aim higher!

Look, experiences take place. You can’t control that and the only way to stop them from happening is to put your business on hold.

Serendipity can happen on the website looking for information or via the app, trying to buy a product. It can be for a client or a mere visitor that will later share it with a friend. It could be when asking for support, angrily, on the phone or in the shop with a sales assistant trying to figure out the the new service you found out about from the TV commercial.

It can be using your flashy 100K smartphone that can make small diamond burgers, the dating service with the awesome matching algorithm behind the 30 min long onboarding survey or the hammer that lacks the V shaped head that helps remove nails, makig you wonder why you haven’t spend the extra buck to get the other one from the competition.

Something happens because there’s an interaction with your brand, your identity, the way you act and react on all those channels.

Your product ? The digital and human assets, they way they work as a whole and provide value for your users. It’s not just the thing or the service you offer, it’s the ecosystem that breathes the mission you had set when you originally came up with the idea.

 

It can be smooth and sweet or it can lead up to frustration and anger.

 

You can choose to let it play as it will and hope for the best, or you can try to diminish the possible damage. Notice I didn’t write “take control”. That’s because you can’t hope to do that. Not yet.

You can make a list of the intel that the visitors are often looking for and put it closer to the main entrance of the website.

Do your best to offer all the information necessary for the user to shop for the right product, yet let it be a gradual process so it doesn’t feel busy.

The indian company’s employees, that you’re outsourcing support to, are properly trained and understand basic english – the language your clients speak?

Make sure your customers feel like somebody is listening to them and doing its best to sort out the issue, not going bored & tired through a live survey to class this problem asap and run home. Shape up a relationship with your customers and your employees as well.

Nobody said it would be easy or that magic happens overnight. It’s a story that takes the right shape and color when looking back and linking the dots into a path.

Your product has a life of its own and it’s up to you to grow it healthy and happy. One step at a time.

The only way is up!

UX Myth Busting Cafe

UX Myth Busting Cafe was my approach towards an open chat regarding how UX is perceived by different layers of the product/service development ecosystem, from students (interns, juniors), to developers that might have considered a leading UXD role in their teams and up to Product owners and entrepreneurs looking towards UX with a raised eyebrow.

The presentation pertains mostly to perspectives regarding what requires attention when it comes to introducing UXD in your organization or considering UXD as a professional path, perception versus the reality in the field.

CodeCamp Iasi 2016, spring edition was the playground that offered the opportunity to gather and talk about those myths and the gateway to meeting smart, passionate and altogether awesome people from Iasi and not only.

If you weren’t among those that attended my presentation you’re welcome to peek at the slides and share your insight should you feel like it.

Staying alive is not a soft skill

The reason I resonate with Mike is because we share of couple of common sense principles and, beyond the design professional point of his presentations, the message successfully touches other professionals and becomes inspiration if not guideline on how to deal with life’s challenges.

I may be developing a mentor like admiration for Mike: he’s got the talent to kick you right in the ass, make you feel bad about what you do and how you do it, and then roughly but surely build you back up, leaving you content about your trade and yourself ultimately, yet inspired to ask for more, grow and do better.

This one is mainly about selling your work and yourself as a professional. Presentation is at least as important as the actual work. Focusing on delivering the best work possible is not enough.The things most of us never heard during school.

“They are releasing designers into the wild who don’t know how to earn a living. Staying alive is not a soft skill.”

Bonus tracks:

13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations

If you don’t have the money, you’ll have to make the time

But you learned that already, right ?

A bitter-sweet paradox comes up when, at the same time you experience:

A. tearful joy for having an “A-ha!” moment and solving a dilemma, thus clearing a path

B. klingon anger for having the moment so far inside the project’s timeline and having to reallocate resources, reshape the budget and sell another deadline

That’s when you might consider hiring somebody that plays with this all day long. Who’s passion surpasses yours on the user experience matters and has the brains filled less with payroll, sales, marketing and such.

There’s a LOT of data out there and you could become the one you’re after in no time. If you make the time to read, digest and test your assumptions. And cancel your personal impulses.

Now, this may come easy for you and you could be a natural: planning UX requires common sense and consideration for other’s needs and expectations. Or you could be like some of my clients: raising eyebrows when they see the conclusions of the user research and tests.

 

Being a Product Owner is challenging.

Fitting the pieces together, coming up with new ways to persuade the users that your baby is the one they should consider, joining visions and needs into a solid and yet easy to digest perfect sphere of intelligence is not for everybody. We know that.

It’s kinda like parenthood: you may be pursued by the context to do it but there’s always somebody doing a better job just because they actually enjoy the opportunities and challenges behind it. And you’ll come to know the results when it’s close to impossible to change anything.

Developing  a set of reflexes that include forcing an objective view to filter out the irrelevant data and requests in orde to meet your user expectations and business goals at the same time … might not be as easy as you think.

Trying to focus on yet another perspective of your product is very Very VERY useful.

But can you afford it ?

 

Business. Design. Technology.

They’re all connected.

Business, technology and design. They work together, it’s like a chair with three legs: if one is shorter or broken the user will fall on the floor.

One ring to rule them all ? User eXperience design, of course!

Smiles aside, the UX designer is somewhere in the middle, between the hammers and the anvil, advocate for the user.

(S)he’s trying to figure out all the angles and decide on the best compromise or which aspect is more important and when.

I’m a Libra.

No, really, I actually am. It’s a natural instinct inside guiding me towards balance, righteousness and justice.

That helps a lot when one of the stakeholders loses focus or, quite the opposite, is too focused on their own perspective to notice the importance of other aspects.

You need patience to listen and discern the finer points. Then comes the finesse to match views and fine tune perspectives while subtly melting passions inspired by horse glasses.

I dream sweet interfaces, the sales guy needs some items to be more prominent and work in a certain way, the developer would love to become Hannibal because we want all these done in only two sprints of the three he agreed with the product owner for the new release.

We all think we hold the truth.

It often feels like I know more about the user than the client and I make damn sure that his needs are catered for.

Until the client feels the business goals are by far more important than anything because they keep the company alive.

The dev team needs the proper set of user cases, wants to build something outstanding and make sure all the lights turn green upon flight check. And less guesswork could go a long way.

And we’re all right! Except, not necessarily at the same point in time.

The sales guy met his clients and knows for sure that they need that service built in that specific way because it mimics something from the physical world that they’re used to.

The dev team might not have the proper time to build that awesome piece of engineering and trying to make it perfect could lead to missing the launch date. However making it work as it’s planned as opposed to checking only the main points would lead to customer satisfaction and further recommendations.

If you want to do it right, developing a software, be it web based, mobile or for desktop is a tedious job.  You may sometime feel like taking a trip to the Swiss Alps. And stay there for a couple of years instead of weeks.

But you know what ? You’re doing this because you like it: it’s the reason you work on Sunday evenings, it’s your wish to deliver a premium product, it’s your passion for human nature and the WHYs behind the reactions.

It’s summa’ time mon, and ain’t nothin’ gonna

User testing is like teenage sex

User testing is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it. So everyone claims they are doing it…

I know, it applies to other ideals as well (big data, internal audits, user research) but user testing is among those few that are beyond mandatory: they are vital for decency.

Do you know how professional user testing happens ?

Ever seen an episode of Lie to me ?

They have this fancy, state of the art lab where they bring in the poor subjects and using hi res cameras, software, experience and a keen sense of observation, turn images and data into viable conclusions regarding the validity of their answers.

It’s pretty much the same thing for user experience testing except, instead of stressing the subject with a cold, naked and inquisitive environment you’re trying to get as close as possible to its natural habitat: a couch in the living room in front of the TV, the desk at the office in the open space or even the comfy toilet seat, perfect for reading news and playing a quick game.

Now, these lab based UX tests are thought to be the closest thing to what happens in real life and there fore relevant. They also cost about as much as a pro recording studio charges. So … they’re kinda expensive and only the big players get to play.

Cheaper alternatives

If you’re a startup or a middle sized company with a mature product due to launch a new version of its niched web app you may wanna look into cheaper alternatives: Silverback, Morae or UserTesting and the list could continue based on needs and budget.

However, none of the them truly delivers the best case scenario: testing the website or app right in your home, at your desk, without having to install fancy software on specific platforms.

The sweet spot

The other day I attended UXA’s monthy beer session and found out about this new kid on the block, taking shape and growing strong to make your life easier. It works straight out of the browser window, records the interaction with the screen and if you’re using a laptop, user’s reactions via webcam.

UX Probe is sexy. Still a kid but one with more than potential and ready to ease the pain of user testing for your website or web app.

And since we’re discussing the best way to make sure we get valid feedback from the users, a good friend of mine is due to launch a serious bias deterrent: Unbias. Keep an eye on their proposal, it might reshape your experiences.

Whether it’s user testing,  looking for alternate angles to adjust your perspective or, well … sex,  don’t stop till you get enough!

ROI of UX

Do you consider it as a extra you don’t really need ? After all, you were able to make it until now, right? Is this UX thing really worth it? Neah, don’t invest in creating a great user experience!

But … at least peek at you may be mising.

The following is a classic for those interested in their return on investment if they plan to introduce user experience design in their software development process, enjoy!

And after watching it, if you have questions, don’t hesitate to knock.

May the 4th be with you!

Less choices empower you

The way I see it it started with CMSs.

It continued with Squarespace & alikes and now, … now we have The Grid. Yo.

The Grid is a whole other kind of animal, part designer, part … AI. Yes, that’s Artificial Intelligence: you have an inhouse designer slash information architect slash magician, choosing what’s best for you based on what you feed it with. And you get a personalized design based on the intel you provided. That’s the gist of the sales pitch.

I read recently how a president’s willpower could be weakened by the fact that (s)he’d have to decide what to eat and wear on a daily basis and he (or she) might not be able to push the big red button if required, at evening time.

I think this would apply as well to your business: you might not be focused enough to make the important calls if you don’t delegate the responsibility and give up control over to a professional to handle your web presence properly.

The Grid will grow and other similar tools will surface and look down upon it. Because it’s far from perfect and it surely can’t replace a fully fledged professional.

However, for some budgets, timelines and expectations, it fits the bill successfully and holds high the  dawn of a new challenge: the designer you can’t convince to nudge the button by two pixels to the right.

One at a time, while offering control the CMSes, Squarespace and now The Grid restrict your options to a minimum, make the web calls on your behalf so you can focus on growing your dreams and provide the quick answer to “We need a bloody website. Yesterday!”

I guess that’s one way to translate the classic “Less is more”.

Feeling empowered ?

Make it pretty!

Design is not about making things pretty.

Sure, you think about the visual aspect, how it looks or feels. But the end result’s main component is not just artistic sense, inspiration and creativity. It’s also about research, rules, restraints and lots of pondering regarding the best way to present what, at first, is a chaotic mix of ideas, tendencies and hopes. It’s about striking the proper balance between looks and functionality, between modern and usable, between cost and quality.

Architects don’t dream only of futuristic and elegant shapes, they’re also concerned with structural integrity, flow, ease of access or intimacy, materials, weight, pressure and resilience.

Composers don’t hear only “the beat”: there has to be a certain natural flow with specific accents and key lows. Those that make you wonder and dive into pleasure are the ones that vibrate with you on the same wavelength:  they “guessed” in advance your preference for pinching your synapses in a certain order, with a certain strength and fluid slide on the keys of a piano or the chords of a cello. Or an electribe.

Design is about solving problems.

And creating the proper shells for a character that may have yet to be crystallized. Because, at first, it’s chaos.

Imagine you are faced with the enthusiasm of the likes of Henry Ford or Karl Benz and had to fit in that awesomely ugly new piece of technology under the hood of an elegant novelty.

You make sure it’s intuitive by offering the layout similar to a carriage, ensure the elegance using galvanized levers, leather seats and carefully crafted finishes, while keeping costs to a minimum by using all those only in key areas.

Sure, intuition, creativity and synesthesia might save the day. But they need something worth saving.  That often comes up after days, weeks and months of research, testing, blood on the walls and relentless pursuit of something that you have no idea how it will look like but you sure know how it should behave.

It’s about team work. And ultimately, feeling pretty about your contribution.

I want my share of fun!

I remember the time

When I was ten childhood had a whole other set of coordinates than nowadays. Some of the regular boys’ games involved stealing green sour fruits from someone’s private garden. Or maybe a whole branch with those fruits – takes less time, you see.

The gang counted five and usually, even if no german shepherd would be involved, a mad 40 year old with a heavy bat and prominent veins would always come up towards the end of the fruitful heist, seeding fear, adrenaline and panic. And fun!

However, in order to make sure the fun part doesn’t end too soon, somebody would have to plan this like in the movies. That somebody was me.

In the post communist Romania from 20+ years ago, How to Steal a Million was the best source of inspiration in such matters on the only one TV station I had available. So, through trial and plenty of error(s) and bruises, I came up with a classic for SEAL teams: recon, distract, attack, watch for trouble and signal for get-the-hell-outta-here if necessary.We (obviously!) had predetermined run-far-away routes and a common meeting point, where we’d all be clear to share the loot.

And laugh wholeheartedly while preparing for a well deserved stomach ache.

Yeah, I’ll admit I wasn’t the one climbing the fence, the roof  or the trees but the team worked well in this fashion. Not to mention I had a genuine referee whistle, present from my uncle.
And I used pen and paper!

I’d like my team back

Fast forward 20 years into the present and somehow, you get the same guy: planning for success. Thinking how things can fail, so they won’t. Asking the questions that your clients would, noticing the details that make the difference between a high bounce rate and a high conversion rate. Putting together the puzzle pieces of the bigger picture so that answering WHY takes less.

So, what do you think I would fancy? I’d like my team back, so we can have fun again!

Sure, the game may have changed, the stakes may seem higher, but I find them suited for the age. The thrill of the “heist”, the “loot”, the team laughter that signals the end of a lesson, not only a project.

Pretty lies

I could tell you that I’m looking for young, dynamic colleagues, well prepared and serious professionals, ready to rock’n’roll every project with the highest standards of quality, through passion and dedication. I could say I’m looking for a boss that can either become my mentor or is willing to listen to my ideas and implement then without hesitation. Internal trainings, awesome books within reach, travelling from a conference to another, leaving no time for actual work just knowledge gorging.

But … fun comes not only from the result, but also from the discovery process, the relationships you build, the vibe that the project carries with it and the dent you make by being the best version of yourself.

And I want my share of fun! How about you?